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Euro 2016

Wales faces biggest game for 60 years against Belgium in Euro 2016

Wales' Gareth Bale celebrates with daughter Alba and fans at the end of the match against Northern Ireland
Wales' Gareth Bale celebrates with daughter Alba and fans at the end of the match against Northern Ireland Reuters/Darren StaplesLivepic

Wales take on Belgium in Lille on Friday in what’s been described as Wales’s biggest game in 60 years. Wales and their passionate band of travelling supporters are illuminating their first major international football tournament since the 1958 World Cup.

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Back in 58 Wales reached the quarter-finals before being beaten by the eventual winners Brazil who featured a certain 17-year-old named Edson Arantes do Nascimento.

While Pelé went on to become a football legend, Wales have their latter-day hero in the shape of Gareth Bale. The 25-year-old Real Madrid star is the most decorated player in his squad having won two Uefa Champions League titles with the Madrid giants since his move from Tottenham Hotspur in 2013.

Bale’s experience of the big occasion will count in the run-up to the match at the Stade Pierre Mauroy.

The calm demeanour of Wales coach Chris Coleman will also be crucial.

“We’ll enjoy it,” said the former Wales international. “Just like I’ve said all along since we got to the competition. We will enjoy it and that’s what the team has done in the tournament. People have said that Wales can’t win, that they’re the underdogs etc etc. But that’s not the way we see it. It’s another huge test and another big challenge. It’s just another one of a line of challenges that we’ve already met. It’s a great position for us to be in.”

Wales have been something of a bogey team for Belgium. They were both in the same qualifying group for Euro 2016. Wales took four points off them in their two games.

Coleman says those results don’t give his players any psychological superiority.

“It’s about what happens on the night,” said the 46-year-old manager.

Vertonghen out with ankle injury

Belgium were rocked on the eve of the game by news that key defender Jan Vertonghen will be out for the rest of the tournament with an ankle injury. The rearguard will also be without the Barcelona defender Thomas Vermaelen who is suspended.

Coleman again played down any advantages those absences might bring.

“Look, Belgium have got so many good players," he argued. "Yes, if Vertonghen is out, that’s a loss for them. But we can’t worry about them, we have to look at ourselves and we need to focus on our own game plan to make sure there is a high level of urgency about the way we play. Once we get all that right, it doesn’t really matter who we are playing against. We know we are in the game.”

A Wales victory over Belgium - who reached the 2014 World Cup quarter-finals and are rated the second best team in the world – would be one of the shocks of the tournament. It would be something akin to Iceland unpicking England on 27 June in Nice.

England’s players left the tournament with their fans hurling abuse at them and the manager Roy Hodgson out of a job.

It’s nothing but darkness in the corridors of the England Football Association. For so long eclipsed by their illustrious neighbours, Wales have a chance on Friday night to step into their own light.

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